This is the story of Jake and Maria Stoess’s travel to Paraguay in 1947 and subsequent return.
This story was told by Maria to her daughter Barbara many decades later and she wrote it down at that time.
On board the ship the men slept in hammocks in a large room. The women and children slept in bunks also in one room. 3000 people on board to South America with nothing to do, bored.
Young people started playing their musical instruments and dancing, this was considered sinful by the older Mennonites. Jake and Maria joined the younger crowd but because they were newly married and parents to a baby boy they were told that they should associate with the older people.
The young people played a lot of popular songs of that time, one of which was "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" which Maria ended up knowing by heart by the time they reached Trinidad.
They managed not to suffer from seasickness most of the time, however there is a spot in the Atlantic Ocean where another ocean joins it causing tremendous waves without wind. If these waves had been 4 to 6 inches higher the propellor would have broken off when the ship's stern returned to the water. The ship's crew had also put up fencing along the decks of the boat for extra handholds.
Boat Drill was conducted quite often and a kind officer offered to look after Philip (the baby) while Maria went up on deck with the others.
Jake had trouble sleeping in a hammock because of the ship's motion. He decided that he would be better off sleeping on the floor. However the room in which they were sleeping was close to the water storage tanks and with every motion the tanks would slosh and bang back and forth making it impossible to sleep. Upon reaching Trinidad this problem was rectified.
One problem was the money factor. When they embarked on this trip it was said that there was to be no rich or poor. As a result Jake and Maria had no money or what they did have was entrusted to someone else (it was never returned). Once in Trinidad the people who had kept some money on them went ashore and brought fresh fruit while the others went without.
When Bonis Aires was reached those travelling to Paraguay were split into two groups. There were too many to go by train so half had to go by boat. Maria and Jake were among those who had to go by boat.
After travelling the length of the river they disembarked and continued their journey by truck. They had to cross a river on a bridge made of two planks the width of the truck's tires. However, they couldn't cross immediately on reaching the river due to a slight flood. They remained camped on the bank until they could cross. They then continued by truck until the colony was reached.
The colony they were to settle had been a Spanish settlement of some sort before the owner sold out. Supposedly there was to be a lot of cleared land and some bush. Upon arrival it was discovered that it was quite the opposite. All of the people settling in this colony drew numbers as to which plot of land was their's. Peter, Jake's brother drew a plot with some buildings on it. He did not have a family so he swapped with Jake. Jake and Maria's tent was rotten so they were very relieved to move in.
In the building that was once a chicken coop there were a few hornet's nests. The hornets had built their nests on a central pole so every time they would go past they would get stung. The pole was some sort of wood that doesn't burn or float. One night Jake decided to get rid of the hornets and climbed onto the thatched roof and poured gasoline on the nests. He threw a match on it and slid down the roof and ran. The nests blew up leaving the pole standing and no more problem with hornets.
Jake and Maria were considered trouble-makers because they had befriended several young people from other colonies and religions. As a result of this no one in their own colony would help them build their new house.
A saw mill had been constructed in which Jake worked to prepare the lumber. It had been decided that no lumber would be sold until everyone in the colony had built their new homes. However, it did not quite work out that way. Someone who needed the lumber always got pushed to the back of the line in favor of someone who was already wealthy and wanted to sell the lumber.
Despite all this Jake still managed to get the walls and floors of his house up. After they had reached this point, Maria and Jake decided to hold an open air dance in their new home. Of course, they invited their young friends and this met with disapproval from the elders of the colony.
Meanwhile the house stands roofless and no one is willing to help raise it. Maria decides to go over to her in-law's and ask them for their help. She also informs them that if they refuse to help then she will be forced to go up on the roof, in her very pregnant condition and do it herself. She has finally lost patience due in part to a severe thunderstorm the previous night causing the tarp that is their roof to roll up. Come the next day it was amazing to see how many people had learned to shingle over night.
All was ready to move into the new house. Jake went to his parent's to borrow their tractor and trailer to move their furniture. His mother refused to lend it without her husband's knowledge, who was sleeping. Upon awakening, he promptly came over and helped the young couple. By this time, though, Jake and Maria had already moved the double bed up hill to the new house. They also moved Philip, asleep, in his bed. This all happened during the week of January 9, 1951.
On January 15, 1951 Henrietta was born. Jake was the doctor and Philip watched the proceedings with much interest. Her first visitor was her grandmother, who had come over to find out when this baby was really supposed to be born. She was informed that the blessed event had already taken place and that she had a new granddaughter.
Around this time, the saw mill caught fire. Jake was blamed for it. Already having the reputation of consorting with trouble-makers and smoking he seemed the likely one to blame. Especially when one very nervous lady claimed that she had seen Jake on the roof of the saw mill pouring gasoline, lighting it and running off. Meanwhile Jake, Maria and family were asleep in their beds.
The rest of the village was trying to get the motor out with a bulldozer only the driver managed to hook onto a gas drum and pierce a hole in it. Gas was spilled over the ground and the fumes woke Jake and Maria. The gas tanks were left in front of their yard because the truck delivering them couldn't make it up the hill.
Later it was discovered that the fire in the mill was started due to a mesh being absent on a chimney. A stray spark had fallen into the sawdust, smoldered and eventually caught fire.
Jake and Maria left South America before their daughter was a year old.
Maria and Phillip Stoess 1948 Paraguay
The saw mill at the new colony in Paraguay. 1948.
Maria, Phillip, and Henrietta Stoess back in Canada 1951.